The unique feature of our African Pygmy Hedgehogs is the quills. Anywhere in an average range of 5000 to 7000 can be found on a healthy pet. Made up of air pocket filled keratin, this strange hair follicle provides defence and cushion from falls.
Hedgehogs are born with quills beneath the skin that emerge with hours. These first quills are shed during quilling at eight weeks to six months and possibly again at a year. Adult quills fall out after a year but not as frequently as baby quills.
At the base beneath the skin is a ball shaped follicle to keep the lightweight spine anchored. Following up are a network of air chambers that strengthen the quill and maintain the light weight. Finally the sharp point is straight and sharp but bears no poison or barb, it remains with the hedgehog and is only harmful if attacked.
Hedgehogs have been known in the wild to use their spines to kill snakes using their quills. They bite and hold their victim and puncture them with their visor of quills.
The strong quills help hedgehogs in the wild with climbing down. Generally they can get to a height but struggle with poor depth perception and ball to fall down. The unique structure of air chambers and erect ball cushions the fall up to 20 feet.
In order to ball the hedgehog has the orbicularis muscle, which runs along the edge of its body which it tightens like a drawstring to curl up. This ball defense hides the vulnerable face, legs, tail, and underbelly in a spine fortress.
The quills like human hair come in a range of colour from black to white. Caring for them should be done in a tepid bath no more than weekly using mild wash and a toothbrush. Spot cleaning can be done using unscented baby wipes.
Excessive quill loss can require a vet visit to find the underlying cause. Your pet may have a bacterial, fungal, or parasite that needs prompt attention.
Some keep lost quills in a locket or jar. Otherwise people find quills in carpet and bedding as an unfortunate surprise. These tough unique hairs are remarkable even if we find them painful.